Vida Hotels and Resorts General Manager Daniel Kingston has worked in the hospitality industry for over 20 years, and was heavily involved in the opening of the first Vida Hotel outside of the UAE, followed by the grand opening of Vida Downtown. Here, he talks brand connection, stepping it up and more.
You started off by working at a family-run hotel; what were some of the most important skills you’ve learned there?
The passion of delivering a great guest experience, when you see the owner in the lobby, meeting guests, carrying luggage, proud of his property, you step up and embrace this philosophy and don’t want to let him down. It’s more than seeing a poster on the wall telling you to create memorable guest experiences, which a lot of companies do, it’s actually watching first hand it been done. I’ve tried to bring this passion and hands-on approach, into everything that I’ve done since.
The other would be having a sense of personality in everything that you do. It was more than following the SOPs (which obviously in a hotel over 100 years old is a little easier, as things tend to just work), it was about welcoming guests as part of the family and having the ability to connect on a personal level.
You’ve launched flagship properties in the Middle East and abroad; what are some of the key differences between global markets?
I’ve been really lucky to work in some really interesting locations and amazing properties; however, Dubai is the pinnacle of this, it’s such a global city and is a melting pot of so many cultures, you’re exposed to so many nationalities here.
Obviously, the biggest difference between global markets are the cultural sensitivities: the way we operated the W in Sydney was different to how we approached the W in Doha. We certainly wanted the same energy and did an amazing job creating this, but we had to be more sensitive to other aspects of the Brand.
From a guest perspective, the world is so much smaller, so you tend to deal with different nationalities the same way across the globe. The difference is how you do business in those locals. One of the biggest learnings for me moving to the Middle East was how important relationships were, guests don’t call the reservations department – they call you directly – it’s so important to be present for them.
From a staffing perspective, we work very hard to empower our teams to be confident decision-makers for the guests: this was a little easier to action in cultures where this comes naturally, whereas I found when opening a hotel in India, where the approach and desire to serve is fantastic, it took a lot more training to get the team comfortable with this level of responsibility.
Lastly, the fact that here in the Middle East you’re responsible for more than just the team’s work environment, you have to manage their home life as well, if they’re not comfortable in their accommodation, the food we serve them…they won’t deliver on the desired guest experience.
What would you say differentiates Vida Hotels from other chains?
I love this Brand; I still remember the feeling I got when I first interviewed with the Vida Downtown. Here was a space that was really stylish, beautifully designed and just created such a nice energy, you felt Inspired the moment you stepped in, which is actually one of the core values of the Brand.
We’ve tried to create spaces that appeal to those with an entrepreneurial spirit and I really do believe, what you read on the tin, is what has been created at all our Vida properties, Inspirational, Sophisticated, Social spaces.
This is further backed up by some of the partnerships we’ve had: we look for partners who inspire us, for example Let’s Work, a home-grown co-sharing office space app, and Mr Draper, the online shopping platform for men.
From a service standpoint, we’re a genuinely accessible Brand with a very simple service approach, we don’t try and force our way of doing things onto our guests, and they are free to create their own experience.
Lastly, I think the fact we’re a genuine home-grown Brand with a global feel also helps differentiate us.
Do you think that luxury hotels will now struggle in the wake of more affordable options in Dubai?
Well, the obvious concern is the compression on the rates, so you need to be smarter in how you operate as the margins get leaner, which isn’t necessarily a negative thing, it presents new opportunities. How can we work smarter? The introduction of smarter technology.
What it does mean is that as operators, we need to look at those value adds for our guests. We know the majority of our guests are now looking for more authentic experiences, so we need to understand how we can deliver this, who we can partner with to help drive some of these experiences.
These partnerships also extend to third party providers, how we can work better with them to drive business into our properties. It also means leveraging even further on guest loyalty, its more than just earning and burning points, it’s about creating experiences for our members.
That said, there’s a market that still looks for luxury and the addition of more affordable options opens up Dubai to new markets and business opportunities and helps the growth of the city.
What are some of the most important F&B rebrands you’ve had, and how have they helped attract more diners to your properties?
One of the most fun, was not so much a re-brand, but was the addition of a Food Truck to Vida Downtown. We were one of the first to introduce a food truck to Dubai and it was great, our chef loved it as we were able to be a little more creative with the food offerings.
We certainly saw less of our chef as he was out running around the city, but it was so convenient, you could arrive, fire up the burners and away you go. We did the catering for a Jackie Chan movie, the Rugby Sevens, were present in a lot of the events around the city. However, the craziest was New Year’s Eve on the Boulevard, it was absolute madness with the volume of people ordering food.
Most recently, opening Vida Emirates Hills, we worked on a fantastic concept called Origins. Origins is our all-day, every-day, every-person eatery and is all around the story behind the sourcing of the food. The concept serves all who wish to eat cleaner, better and more mindfully and celebrates provenance, without being married to any particular cuisine or style. Origins has been a comfortable space where we explore authentic raw materials, a concept quite rare and well-appreciated in this region, so it has been a joyful journey bringing the concept to life.
Please tell us more about your sustainability initiatives, and how the response has been so far.
What I’m very excited about with Sustainability is the focus from DTCM on the issue: they have recently launched a list of key focus areas that all the hotels in Dubai will be audited on, which is starting this year. These include areas such as our carbon footprint, water and energy reductions, waste management, etc. which is great as it ensures we’re all focussed on such an important topic.
Along with the plans from DTCM, we’ve also eliminated single-use amenities from the rooms at Vida Emirates Hills, we use filtered tap water in our restaurants and meeting rooms, which all our guests love, it’s one of the first things they often mention is the lack of plastic bottles on the tables: however, there’s so much more that we would like to do.
Emaar Hospitality was the first to work with WINNOW, which supports reducing food wastage, and this has been very successful in the properties that have introduced this. Within our all-day eatery, Origins, we’ve worked with some local farms to source our ingredients, our oysters come from Dibba, and we work with Green Heart Organic for some of our fruit and vegetables, which taste amazing by the way.